Prolific travel writer, journalist and novelist Iyer (Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign, 2004, etc.) turns his judicious eye on the 14th Dalai Lama, with whom he has been acquainted for more than 30 years.
As a 17-year-old, the author traveled with his father into the Indian mountains and was introduced to the Dalai Lama, an encounter that struck him as a profound departure from the real world. The book takes its title from D.H. Lawrence, who once declared the open road to be “the great home of the Soul.” The most iconic Tibetan in the world has devoted his adult life to travel and encounters with strangers. The only Dalai Lama ever to have been outside of Tibet, he finds every door open to him, it seems, except the one that would welcome him back to the Chinese-occupied country of his birth. Described by the author as a “hyperrealist,” the Dalai Lama resides in the present moment more fully than in any geographical location. Iyer’s study includes a first-person account of interactions with his subject, as well as an incisive analysis of the modern relevance of Tibetan Buddhism and its leader. His portrait is entirely human, offering vignettes that convey multiple dimensions of the Dalai Lama’s personality, from his sense of humor and distinctive laughter to his political views and, in the words of Iyer’s father, “the freshness of [his] immense personal purity.” Questions about reality, existence, reincarnation and idolatry make this book resonate as an examination into subjects more substantial than one man’s life—the values that the Dalai Lama imparts have global reach and consequences.
Nonfiction of the highest caliber: fascinating and thorough, but never sycophantic or overly familiar.